In September of 2012, we drove to Chattanooga to meet with Ted Alling, a serial entrepreneur, partner at the Lamp Post Group, and co-founder of Access America Transport. We grew up with Ted’s little brother so we knew of Ted’s success. We were seeking his advice on how to recruit and manage technical talent for our team. By the end of the meeting we had a standing offer to join the venture incubator at Lamp Post. Striking up a venture deal was the last thing on our mind when we set out for Chattanooga.
Now all we had to do was move to Chattanooga, which besides this meeting, we haven’t been to since we visited Rock City when we were ten years old. You’ve got to understand, we all have wives, mortgages, lives to handle. The idea of uprooting and moving to a new city was insane! Our previous lives weighed heavy on one side of our conscience while the future of our company sat hefty on the other. We decided to come back one sunny afternoon a week later and soak up the city. What we experienced couldn’t be explained, it was almost euphoric. With every step on its historic Walnut Street bridge, we crossed from the end of one life into the beginning of another. We just knew this was where we needed to be. Our wives may not have understood it at the time, but since moving, we haven’t once regretted our decision. Every day our company is given the resources and opportunity to grow and thrive in this beautiful city.
What we can testify since we’ve been here:
Tech Talent — Our company has grown from 0 programmers to a team of 6 highly intelligent and hardworking tech guys in less than a year. Chattanooga was the first city in its hemisphere to have a gig of internet available to any resident or business. Lamp Post hosts a weekly tech talk in our office where we gather these geniuses from around the area to talk about things ranging from modern computational theories to the meaning of the universe. Depth.
Startup Community — The startup scene here is one of the closest knit communities, period. Everyone legitimately cares about each other and improving the city of Chattanooga in the process. A lot of startups are doing some really cool things. A kick-started company called Variable Technologies is changing the face of the “Internet of things” with their invention, the NODE. Quick-Que just sold their table waiting app for multiple millions. Southtree is blowing the face off digitizing old photos and videos. Ambition is gamifying the sales world with a “fantasy football for sales” environment creating culture built off competition. You can check out the scene at NoogaStartups.com. I also wanted to mention the multiple sources and opportunities for funding. There’s the aforementioned Lamp Post Group, the Chattanoogan Renaissance Fund, and the the Company Lab among others.
City Leadership — I’ve never seen a city where all of its residents are dedicated to making Chattanooga the greatest city to live. It’s contagious. I think this starts with city leadership. Our mentors at Lamp Post Group like Ted Alling, Allan Davis, Barry Large, Shelley Prevost, Jack Studer and Miller Welborn want nothing more than this city to be the epicenter of the South. River City Company has does some incredible things for the city and has some very accomplished projects. The Mayor, Andy Berke, has made a commitment to entrepreneurship in the city. Everyone feeds off of everyone’s energy and it’s really incredible to be apart of this growing and progressive community.
Vibrant Downtown — I live downtown. Everyone in our company lives downtown. Just about everyone we know lives downtown. I personally don’t remember the last time I used my car because everything is within walking distance. There are also tons of awesome things that happen downtown. We’ve found that there isn’t a weekend from May until the end of October where there isn’t some type of free concert or event happening in the downtown area. The area lures people like some odysseian syren, forcing the most boring people to enjoy themselves. Every Sunday, there’s a market full of locally sourced food and art. There’s the the world-renown Riverbend that happens for half of June. We’re also extremely excited about the new High Point Climbing Gym and Chattanooga Whiskey’s new creation, the Tennessee Stillhouse. We wanted to credit The River City Company for bringing excitement to the downtown with the Aquarium, the Block, and Nightfall.
Outdoor Capital of the World — Yes, I’m not even close to exaggerating. From the thousands of miles of hiking trails, to the world-class whitewater, to the best rock in the south-east, Chattanooga is known for it’s outdoor activities. It’s already been named the best outdoor city by multiple outdoor magazines, one of them being the highly credible Outside Magazine. For us personally, we’ve recently purchased a pontoon boat (she’s a real beaut) and frequent the river that runs through downtown quite often. Wild times.
Cost of Living — Chattanooga is about 16% less than the national average when it comes to cost of living. I don’t even want to think about how it compares to San Francisco. Here, your cash goes a long way. It really allows you to survive for a much longer time than you would have in any other city. Just saying, one of our employees pays maybe $300 a month on rent and utilities.
In our 15 short months, we’ve grown, learned and accomplished a great deal. Our team of 3 has grown to 14 with an incredibly talented tech team and experienced sales team. We operated in 47 cities in 2013, employing about 2000 part-time students. We’ve undergone a massive expansion and are currently operational in 115+ cities in 42 states, employing about 10,000+ part-time students. We wanted to extend an invite to any startups in town looking for advice or any startups that are considering moving here to call or come visit us anytime, and we wanted to thank Chattanooga and its people for helping with the cause as we can safely say that we wouldn’t be where we are today without Chattanooga as our supporting cast.
– Stephen Vlahos, Cameron Doody & Matt Patterson (Bellhops)